6.29.2012

Chicken Caprese Salad


After the Backyard Farms event, I came home with a bunch of tomatoes and the memory of the flavors of the lobster caprese salad Neptune Oyster's chef Michael Serpa had prepared. I decided I would try to re-create the caprese salad at home -- using chicken instead (since Jeff can't eat lobster).

We made a quick trip the grocery store, and then I gathered all my ingredients: chicken, bread, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce (not found in the original salad but something I wanted to add), basil, chives, lemon, shallot, salt and pepper, and mozzarella.


I pounded two chicken breasts, just to an even thickness, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and handed them off to Jeff, who took them out to the grill. While he grilled the chicken, I cut a couple thick slices of Italian bread and brushed them with olive oil on both sides. Once the chicken was done, he put the bread on the grill and let it get lightly charred on each side. I rubbed the grilled bread with the cut side of a garlic clove half.

In a large bowl, I combined torn pieces of lettuce and basil, thinly sliced shallot, snipped chives, and salt and pepper.


I squeezed a lemon wedge over the whole thing and drizzled in a little olive oil and then tossed everything together. Then I took the grilled chicken and cut it in bite-size pieces and sliced up some mozzarella and threw the cheese and chicken on top.


I put a piece of grilled bread on each of our plates, and then we both took some of the salad. I added quartered Backyard Farms cocktail tomatoes to my dish while Jeff went tomato-less.


Of course, this salad was not nearly as good as the one I had at the Backyard Farms event (it had no lobster for starters), but it was a very fresh, summery salad and came together really quickly. We'll definitely be eating it again, and I'll probably play around with adding different ingredients and flavors.

Have you made any summery salads lately?

6.27.2012

Backyard Farms And Neptune Oyster Summertime Salads Event


Last Thursday night, I attended an event that was right up my alley. The event was a collaboration between Backyard Farms and Neptune Oyster. Backyard Farms is known for its tomatoes and Neptune Oyster for its lobster (and, yes, oysters). Throughout the evening I learned all about Backyard Farms and sampled some awesome salads made with Backyard Farms tomatoes, prepared by chef Michael Serpa of Neptune Oyster.

The evening began with information about Backyard Farms and a tomato tasting. Well, actually, the evening began with wine. So after I had a glass of rose in hand, I listened to Pete Lewis, VP of marketing at Backyard Farms, talk about the company.


Here's what I learned:
  • Backyard Farms is located in Madison, Maine.
  • They grow three kinds of tomatoes: tomatoes on the vine, beefsteak, and cocktail.
  • They grow tomatoes year-round and ensure you'll get the same great-tasting tomato in January as you will in July.
  • The personal gardeners at Backyard Farms each tend to a specific row of plants and are responsible for those plants from blossom to harvest.
  • Backyard Farms provides more than 200 jobs in the community, with competitive wages and benefits, something that is very unusual for tomato growers.
  • Backyard Farms' tomatoes are sold at Hannaford's, Shaw's, Whole Foods, and small independent grocers... but only as far away as a day's drive from where they're grown. Forty percent of the tomatoes grown never leave Maine, and 80% never leave New England.

And then we sampled the three kinds of tomatoes Backyard Farms grows. The beefsteak tomatoes are bigger tomatoes with a lot of acidity. The  tomatoes on the vine are great utility players, perfect for a salad or sandwich. And the cocktail tomatoes are really great small tomatoes with a nice level of sweetness, which makes them fit for use in lots of recipes or just snacking on straight from the box (I buy them all the time).


Something really neat that I learned about the tomatoes on the vine (that I've been doing wrong all this time) is that you should eat the top tomato (called the king tomato) first and work down to the bottom of the vine. I always take the bottom tomato because it's the easiest one to pull off. The top tomato ripens first, so it's ready to use first.


After the tomato tasting, we gathered around to watch chef Michael Serpa prepare the lobster caprese salad, a popular summer addition to Neptune Oyster's menu.


The salad consists of lobster, shallots, chives, salt and pepper, fresh squeezed lemon, Greek olive oil, torn basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, and Backyard Farms tomatoes.


Serpa discovered Backyard Farms tomatoes when he ran out of tomatoes one afternoon and ran across the street to grab some. He was impressed with the flavor and quality of Backyard Farms tomatoes and has been using them ever since.



While the salad looked tasty enough to eat right out of the bowl, Serpa plated it with some grilled bread and micro greens, making it look even more mouthwatering.


And then he got to work preparing another salad for us to try.


This one featured white Spanish anchovies, radishes, and an olive tapenade.


After he finished his demo, Serpa headed into the other room to plate up the salads for all of us to try.


Finally, it was time to dig in!


With the use of Backyard Farms tomatoes and other bright, vibrant ingredients, Serpa really captured the essence of summer. I loved both salads and especially loved how the flavors soaked into the bread too.

Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, so I was definitely in my glory the whole evening.

Backyard Farms was kind enough to send us all home with some tomatoes (cocktail and on the vine), Filippo Berio olive oil, a tomato-shaped cutting board, Maine sea salt, and a serrated knife (for cutting our tomatoes).


This event was complimentary, but as always my opinions are my own. I was already a fan of both Backyard Farms tomatoes and Neptune Oyster.

Have you ever tried Backyard Farms tomatoes or been to Neptune Oyster?

6.25.2012

Ducali Pizzeria & Bar, North End, Boston


Ducali Pizzeria & Bar, run by chef Philip Frattaroli, is decorated in blue and yellow after the colors a Parma, Italy, soccer team (that is nicknamed Ducali) is famous for. Phil, whom I met at a polenta dinner at Lucia, went to college in Parma and wanted to bring authentic pizza like he had had then to his North End restaurant. All over Italy, one can find different kinds of pizza, with different toppings and crusts, so to him, authentic pizza is pizza that features locally grown ingredients and pays homage to pizza's humble origins as peasant food. When my friend suggested we do dinner at Ducali some time, I didn't hesitate to get a date on the calendar.

So a couple weeks ago, after work, we met in the cozy restaurant and got a seat by the window, where we could look out on the hustle and bustle of Causeway Street. I started the evening with a glass of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, and my friend got a Cisco Sankaty Light.


We glanced over the appetizer menu and were both quickly drawn to the carciofi, a broiled artichoke served with homemade garlic aioli. We ordered one to share. The artichoke arrived, cut in wedges, breaded, and crispy. The homemade garlic aioli was a welcome accompaniment, adding bursts of flavor to the crisp artichoke leaves.


Pizza was a more difficult decision (they all sounded so good), and we eventually decided to order two to share. First we tried the patate. Our love for potatoes on pizza goes way back to our post-college days when we would meet in New Haven, Connecticut, and take down slices of mashed potato pizza at Bar. While Ducali's pizza features thin slices of Red Bliss potatoes rather than mashed potatoes, we still appreciated the starchy addition. And like the bacon on our pizza at Bar, we loved the salty notes of the lightly crisped pancetta here. And, of course, you can't go wrong with melted mozzarella on top. But there the similarities ended, and then this pizza took a turn from our familiar favorite, adding more intense elements like pungent gorgonzola and herby rosemary, which elevated the flavor, making for one very tasty pie. And I shouldn't forget to mention that the crust was on the thin side, with a nice chewiness and pull to it.


The second pizza we tried, going for a "lighter" pie, was the rugola. With just a basic layer of crust and mozzarella cheese, this pizza really shines in the topping. Fresh, peppery arugula was lightly piled on top, drizzled with truffle oil, and dotted with shaved Parmesan. The salty, peppery notes, accompanied by the earthy truffle oil, on that same nicely chewy crust, made this pizza a hit with both of us.


We ate what we could, packed the rest up to take home, ordered a second round of drinks, and looked over the dessert menu. The antipasto dolce sounded interesting, and the waitress told us it was chocolate made by Phil's mother. We deliberated between that and the fried dough, and ultimately, the fried dough won.

We enjoyed the hot, sugary pieces of fried dough and both noted that it was such a smart thing to do with leftover pizza dough.


Just before leaving, I made a trip to the restroom, which is down the stairs by the kitchen. Little did I know that Ducali has both an upstairs and downstairs kitchen, and when I was waiting downstairs, I saw chef Phil preparing some pizzas. He said hi and remembered that we had met at the Lucia dinner, and I raved about the pizzas my friend and I had enjoyed.

Back upstairs, as my friend and I were getting ready to leave, our waitress asked us to hold on for one minute. Phil had asked her to pack up some of the antipasto dolce to-go, so we actually got to try both desserts! (Thank you, Phil!) The homemade chocolate had the most interesting texture, something reminiscent of a chocolate bar, a piece of fudge, and a crumbly cookie, and it was studded with nuts and coconut. It's probably a better meal-ending choice than fried dough, after eating tons of pizza, but both desserts are worth trying.

There are a lot of other things on Ducali's menu that I'd like to try, such as the pizza nachos, so I hope to get back there soon to do just that. If you're looking for some delicious, interesting pizzas in a cozy North End spot, I highly recommend checking out Ducali.

Have you tried Ducali yet?

Ducali Pizzeria & Bar on Urbanspoon

6.20.2012

Georgetown Cupcake Newbury


Georgetown Cupcake -- yes, that Georgetown Cupcake -- opened on Newbury Street in Boston this past Saturday, and last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a pre-opening party complete with cupcakes, champagne, and sister-owners Katherine Kallinis and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne.

Let me back up a minute, just in case you're not yet a fan of the TLC show DC Cupcakes. Georgetown Cupcake started as a single shop in a tiny townhouse in Washington DC. Katherine and Sophie left their jobs and steady incomes to follow their passion: baking cupcakes and making people happy. The day they opened, they sold 500 cupcakes in just two hours and had to close the shop to bake more cupcakes and re-open later that day.

Their cupcakes were so successful that they were eventually able to move to a bigger shop (and open additional locations). They've baked with Martha Stewart and Oprah on their shows and in 2009 were approached by TLC about doing their own show. That was the start of DC Cupcakes, which chronicles their days at the bakery and special projects they take on for customers. Watching the show is how I first learned of Georgetown Cupcake and Sophie and Katherine. Having a passion for baking, I was instantly hooked on the show and the sisters' personalities.

I was beyond excited when I heard Katherine and Sophie were opening a shop in Boston and that they would actually be attending the pre-opening party. On Thursday after work, I met up with Meghan before the party, and we headed over together (we ran into Fiona outside the shop and later were joined by Emily, Elizabeth, and Bianca inside).

As soon as we entered the shop, we saw stunning displays of cupcakes in a chic space with lots of girly pink accents.


A bejeweled KitchenAid on display in the front window caught my eye after I finished ogling the cupcakes. I instantly wanted one -- until I started thinking about how hard it would be to clean. I wouldn't mind having one to put on display though!


I turned again and saw Sophie and Katherine standing directly in front of me. They were both so warm and welcoming, and it was so much fun to meet them in person.


As we made our way farther into the shop, we were greeted by waiters carrying bubbly and cupcakes. I grabbed a glass of champagne and one of every cupcake that came by. (Minis were served for the pre-opening party, but the store will carry full-size cupcakes.)


As I sipped Champagne and sampled cupcakes, I got a good look at the space. It's definitely decked out just right for a cupcake shop, with pink lighting, pink boxes, and a sleek counter.


A wall display showcases all sorts of Georgetown Cupcake paraphernalia for sale, from T-shirts to mugs to the sisters' cookbook.


Now on to those cupcakes I was sampling (excuse the pink pictures). I started with the chocolate hazelnut cupcake: a Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a rich Callebaut chocolate ganache icing topped with caramelized hazelnuts. (Have I ever told you that Valrhona and Callebaut are two of my favorite words?) This cupcake was surprisingly my favorite. I say surprisingly because it wasn't heaped with frosting, just simply dipped in ganache. But those crunchy, caramelized hazelnuts made the cupcake for me.

Next I tried the peanut butter fudge cupcake: a Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a fudge core topped with a peanut butter frosting and a fudge star drizzle. Only the full-size version actually has the fudge core, but this cupcake combined chocolate and peanut butter, so it was still a hit in my book. (And so was the full-size one I tried the next day.)

The salted caramel cupcake -- a caramel cupcake with a salted caramel-infused buttercream frosting topped with a caramel drizzle -- was just a little too sweet for me but would be great for the caramel lover.

The chocolate coconut cupcake -- a Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a vanilla cream cheese frosting capped with a cloud of shredded coconut -- surprised me. I always think I'm not a big fan of coconut, but then I have something with coconut and love it. That's how it went with this cupcake. It reminded me of a Mounds bar, and that's a good thing.


The red velvet cupcake -- a classic red velvet cupcake with a vanilla cream cheese frosting topped with a red fondant heart -- was another impressive cupcake. I think I really like the vanilla cream cheese frosting. And of course, the little fondant heart is adorable.

I loved the chocolate2 cupcake: a Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a whipped Callebaut chocolate frosting topped with a fondant flower. But that should be no surprise given my love for all things chocolate, especially high-quality chocolate like Valrhona and Callebaut. (There's also a chocolate3 cupcake with sprinkles and a chocolate ganache cupcake that I need to go back and try.)

I heard there was no cream in the mini Boston creme cupcake, so I didn't try that one, but the clover on top was a cute touch. (And I gave a full-size one to a friend, and he confirmed it had the Boston creme pudding inside.)


The lava fudge -- a Valrhona chocolate cupcake with a rich fudge core topped with a vanilla icing with a fudge star drizzle -- was another favorite for me, even though the mini didn't have the fudge core. I noticed a strawberry lava fudge cupcake on the February menu and plan to go back then to try that one.

I was getting full by the time cookies and creme came around, but the Madagascar bourbon vanilla cupcake baked with Oreo crumbles and topped with an Oreo-crumble-infused buttercream frosting was sweet and crunchy.


A lot of the flavors we tried at the pre-opening were very basic and provided a good preview of what Georgetown Cupcake is capable of. None of the cupcakes were particularly moist, but they weren't dry either. And they were on the denser side, which I loved. (I can't stand anything resembling a light, airy, box-mix cupcake.) You could tell the cupcakes were made with high-quality ingredients, and they were all really flavorful. The frostings were especially amazing. Besides the salted caramel, I didn't find any of them too sweet, and they all had great textures. Now I have a long list of flavors I want to go back and try, including lemon berry, lavender earl grey teacake, chocolate peanut butter swirl, and banana split.

When I couldn't eat another cupcake, I took a walk around with Elizabeth to check out the kitchen. The  prep table outside the kitchen was covered in pink boxes that we soon learned were full of cupcakes for us to take home.


While most people were focusing on those pink boxes, what was under the table grabbed my attention: Cambros filled with cupcake decorations, from sprinkles to those delicious caramelized hazelnuts. If only I had room in my kitchen for those!


The kitchen itself looked very neat and streamlined. The counter was lined with 20-quart mixers, which must come in very handy for making all the batters and frostings. It's interesting seeing a kitchen designed for just one type of baked good after working at Flour, where all sorts of baked goods are made.


I also found more cupcakes lined up on the counter in the kitchen and was able to get some better pictures in the brighter lighting back there...





Just before we left, Elizabeth and I thanked Katherine and Sophie and got a picture with them!


On the way out, I was handed a generous gift bag (stuffed with a hat, a mug, a travel mug, The Cupcake Diaries, a gift card, information about the shop, and a T-shirt) and a six-pack of full-size cupcakes to take home.


Georgetown Cupcake went all out at this pre-opening party. Champagne was flowing and cupcakes were abundant. I had a great time and enjoyed getting to check out the space and sample the goods. I will definitely be stopping by Georgetown Cupcake whenever I'm strolling down Newbury Street and find myself craving something sweet! I'm also planning on trying a bunch of recipes from the cookbook.

This event was complimentary, but as always my opinions are my own.

Have you ever watched DC Cupcakes?

6.18.2012

West Bridge, Cambridge, Mass.


West Bridge, named for its location just over Boston's original West Boston Bridge, is one of the newest restaurants to open in Kendall Square, so naturally my friend Elizabeth and I had to check it out. We decided to meet for dinner after work on a random Tuesday evening. I arrived a little before Elizabeth and was warmly greeted by the hostesses and shown to our table. The restaurant was pretty quiet since it was on the early side, which gave me an opportunity to scope out the space. I loved how open it was. The mixture of dark and light chairs, all the straight lines, and the rustic floors added a certain appeal and fit the look one might expect from a Kendall Square restaurant.


Our friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable waiter came over to take my drink order and showed me that the menu (food and wine) was actually folded up and tucked in my napkin. After opening the menu and looking it over, I ordered a sparkling Malbec (09 Dom, Augis, Sparkling Malbec, "La Rosee," Loire, FRA). I've been really into pink bubbles lately, and this one did not disappoint.


Elizabeth joined me just after my drink arrived.

To begin our meal, our waiter brought over some fried chicken skin with a malt vinegar aioli for dipping and some pickled vegetables. The chicken skin was incredibly crispy and lightly salty. I enjoyed it with sweet-tangy aioli. I left Elizabeth to sample the pickled veggies, since she's the non-meat eater of the two of us.


For dinner, we decided to share a few dishes. We went mostly meatless, but I wanted to try at least one dish with some kind of meat, and the dandelion salad with duck confit and gooseberries called out to me. The duck was moist and soft and was a good counterpart to the slightly bitter greens. I don't think I've ever had gooseberries before, and I liked the slightly tart citrus notes they imparted to the dish.


The nutty farro with green garbanzo beans tasted so buttery and rich yet light. I loved the different textures going on in the dish. I would have eaten the whole bowl if I didn't have to share with Elizabeth. (It's a good thing I recently discovered I like green garbanzos.)


I had read about the peas and favas here and here, so I knew they were going to be good. The green veggies are served atop a thick pool of goat cheese cream and topped with crispy shiitake mushroom bacon. The mushrooms were almost good enough to replace real bacon, and that goat cheese cream added a little tang and tied everything together.


For dessert, we were lucky enough to get the chef to make us one of everything. (We got to try all of the desserts and just paid for one. We paid for everything else we ordered.) First up, the ice cream cookie sandwich. West Bridge serves SoCo Creamery ice cream, so of course, that was delicious. The cookie itself didn't blow me away, but all of the components together made for a tasty dessert.


A rhubarb tart featured rhubarb that was just too woody to be enjoyable. We gave this feedback to the general manager, and hopefully the tart will be better the next time around... or at this point, with rhubarb pretty much out of season, it might even have been replaced.


The carrot cake with hazelnut buttercream was moist and spicy and plated with a flavorful syrup. We had trouble finding the hazelnut buttercream but eventually dug into it when we got to the bottom of the cake. I would have liked a bit more buttercream (who wouldn't? -- maybe they could add some little rosettes on the side) but loved the cake otherwise. It was such a creative interpretation of what is usually seen as an everyday cake.


My favorite of the dessert offerings was a sort of deconstructed s'more. This layered dessert featured chocolate panna cotta, homemade marshmallow fluff, and a crunchy graham cracker crumb topping. Amid the layers of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker crumbs (typical s'mores components) was a miso sauce. I know it sounds like an unusual addition to a dessert, but it worked, adding saltiness and balancing the sweetness of the s'mores components.


To end our dessert splurge, we sampled little bowls of SoCo Creamery's dirty chocolate ice cream, called such because it's one of the messiest flavors they make. It's a rich, creamy, decadent chocolate ice cream. (And I wanted to take that miniature bowl home with me.)


Overall, I enjoyed our visit to West Bridge and am looking forward to checking out some other menu items. I love the small plates concept since I'm definitely someone who likes to try as many different dishes as possible, but I also want to get Jeff to go back with me at some point to help me tackle the 32-ounce bone-in rib eye (a large dish meant for sharing), and I wouldn't mind trying the roast chicken (after reading this article in the Boston Globe).

Along with many of the restaurants that have opened in Kendall in the past year or so, West Bridge is a welcome addition. (I'm getting just a little jealous that Kendall has so many great restaurants now. I worked in the area for five years and the pickings were pretty slim then. It's also pretty key that the bar at West Bridge opens at 3. I remember that my former co-workers and I would always have to wait around until after 5/5:30 for a good bar to open.)

Have you been to any new restaurants recently?